To Chef Wagner Garcia, the key ingredient to any dish is soul.
“It’s like when your mom cooked for you and your grandma, when they made that plate of food for you and you ate it, you feel good inside. I feel the same way when I’m making it. think the love and the creativity that Wagner puts into it everyday is tremendous. I’m making that plate of food for you with my heart and soul, so when you eat it and that smile hits your face, that makes all the difference. You can actually feel that. You can see it when you look at the food when it comes out. Knowing that I was able to give that person a custom dish for them and have them be so happy with it. It feeds the soul.”
And he’s feeding his passion, and his customers at Alma.
Located in the corner of a strip mall in Beverly, Alma Caribbean Fusion transplants customers from the North Shore to the island the second they enter the door.
“When you step in here it’s like you went on vacation. It’s literally like you’ve been transported to a different place. I feel like I’m in the Caribbean whenever I’m here so it’s kind of like a vacation from life.”
“I tell my friends when you come here, you’ve left Beverly.”
“Instantly it’s a wow reaction of, wow I didn’t expect to have this kind of place in this location, especially being in the corner of a plaza where we’re kind of hidden.”
And while Wagner mans the kitchen, co-owner and fiance Gina Firicano makes everyone feel at home- answering questions about their tapas style menu which combines the flair of the Caribbean with flavors from around the globe.
“We have a little bit of everything from everywhere. We love Asian food, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, so we definitely incorporate a lot of that into our dishes.”
Ordering from this tasty menu ain’t easy.
“Make sure you all eat together because you’re not going to be able to choose. You’re going to want whatever your friend is having and you’re going to be pissed if you didn’t order it.”
There’s the texturally complex Crab and Fried Avocado Salad loaded up with fresh Jonah crab meat and flavored with sweet ponzu and addictive Pastelitos overloaded with beef and cheese.
“They’re super cheesy and stringy. You take a bite and it’s almost like a super cheesy slice of pizza that stretches out. Flaky dough, fried to order, savory, flaky, fluffy, cheesy, stretchy. It’s so many components to it, it’s amazing.”
And if you want a crowd favorite, order the Jerk Wings- seasoned with jerk spices and a sugar cane glaze.
“The jerk wings are kind of special They’re very juicy. They’re very tender. They’re sticky. They’re spicy. They’re sweet. I unabashedly lick my fingers in public when I eat them.”
But if you ask this guy, the mofongitos is the way to go.
“I come here all the time and I’m like have you had the mofongitos? I yell across the counter because it’s my favorite thing.”
“The mofongos traditionally is a Puerto Rican style dish served with fried plantains topped with pork and served usually with a lemon garlic sauce. Here we do sauteed shrimp with a garlic tomato sauce in white wine. The fried plantains are mixed with pancetta, and then topped with the roasted pork which is the panil and the sauteed shrimp. Everything about that is just not your basic mofongito. It’s not what you’re going to find anywhere else, and we’re very proud of that.”
If you want some true east/west flavor, get the bao.
What we do is we use a Thai style steamed bun steamed to order, and it’s taco shaped, and then we stuff that full of ingredients where again you would normally not expect to have in there.
“We have the buffalo chicken bao, we have the glazed chicken bao, we have the veggie bao, the pork bao, and the spicy tuna bao.”
It’s super fluffy, the bread’s so light that you take two bites and you’re just like, that’s so good, I need another one.
For a trio of tasty, the Tripleta Sliders are a must try.
“It’s one of the greatest sliders I’ve ever had. You have a sweet plantain you have your ground beef is actually mixed with the salami. I do more of an Italian style tomato jam and then top that with the fried cheese, avocado. So we have all the components that you would normally find in a tripleta put into a burger.”
If you prefer your burger full-sized and cheesy, the Raclette burger is the way to go
“The Raclette burger we do is a sirloin burger. We actually sear it in duck fat, and we serve it medium rare. It has a nice crust on it because of the way we sear it. Then what we do is we put that on a bed of arugula mixed candied pancetta. Then we finish it with this beautiful French style Raclette cheese that we put in a skillet, we torch it, send it out, and it’s poured over your burger. I’ve had people come back several times in a week for that one burger, and they’re saying it’s the best around.”
The seafood at Alma is always super fresh with an ever changing selection of oysters. Tempting tuna sashimi garnished with mango, fried wontons and a passion fruit ponzu and Mussels swimming in a mango beer broth.
“That broth that’s in there, you could probably eat just a whole roll of bread with that. Or just drink it. I’ve seen people just take the bowls and drink the broth.”
And while the Salted Caramel Lava Cake and S’mores Skillet Cookie are a treat nothing is sweeter than the feeling you get when you become part of the Alma family.
“We’re here because of our friends and family and as soon as you step in here everyone seems to become that, and it’s the greatest thing ever.”
Alma Caribbean Fusion
407 Cabot Street
Beverly, MA 01915